Ecumenism & Religious Pluralism – An Overview


By Saba Wallace

Ecumenism is comparatively a new word for most of us. Many people have never even heard the word. In today's fast moving world, it is important to have knowledge about international issues, concerning human lives and dignity. Ecumenism is one of the issues that have affected our lives in one way or the other since centuries. I invite you to go through this article with a hope that it will help you in broadening your view of the worldwide issues. Ecumenism The word ecumenism is derived from the Greek word oikoumenes, which means the 'inhabited world'. The term is usually used with regard to movements toward religious unity. In its most broad meaning therefore, ecumenism is the religious initiative toward world-wide unity. As a minimum, ecumenism is the promotion of unity, cooperation or improved understanding between distinct religious groups or denominations within the same religion more or less broadly defined. Two general types of ecumenism are discernible. The interfaith ecumenical movement strives for greater mutual respect, tolerance and cooperation between the world's religions. Ecumenism in this sense is discussed at great length under the entry on religious pluralism. This is distinguishable from ecumenism within a faith-group. Our present discussion will discuss religious pluralism in detail, knowing its meaning and views of the prominent religions of the world, which include Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Religious Pluralism Religious pluralism is the belief that one can overcome religious differences between different religions, and denominational conflicts within the same religion. For most religious traditions, religious pluralism is essentially based on a non-literal view of one's religious traditions, hence allowing for respect to be engendered between different traditions or core principles rather then more marginal issues. It is perhaps summarized as an attitude which rejects focus on immaterial differences, and instead gives respect to those beliefs held in common. The existence of religious pluralism depends on the existence of freedom of religion. Freedom of Religion is when different religions of a particular region possess the same rights of worship and public expression. Freedom of religion is consequently weakened when one religion is given rights or privileges denied to others, as in certain European countries where Roman Catholicism or regional forms of Protestantism have special status. (For example see the entries on the Lateran Treaty and Church of England). In Saudi Arabia, the public practice of religions other then Islam is forbidden. Religious freedom has not existed at all in some communist countries where the state restricts the public expression of religious belief and may even actively persecute individual religions. History of Religious Pluralism The rise of religious pluralism in the modern West is closely associated with the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Religions like Judaism and Islam had existed alongside Christianity in many parts of Europe, but they were not allowed the same freedoms as the established form of Christianity. New forms of Christianity were suppressed by force. Early forms of Protestantism sought the same privileges as those previously claimed by Roman Catholicism. In Protestant England, Scotland and Ireland, there were severe legal and social bindings on Jews and Roman Catholics until the passing of acts of emancipation in the nineteenth century. Similar restrictions on smaller Protestant sects who disagreed with the national churches in these countries prompted such groups as the Pilgrim Fathers to seek freedom in North America, although many historians have noted that when these groups became the majority they sometimes sought to deny this freedom to Jews and Roman Catholics. However, Protestant and freethinking philosophers like John Locke and Thomas Paine, who argued for tolerance and moderation in religion, were strongly influential on the Founding Fathers, and the modern religious freedom and equality underlying religious pluralism in the United States are guaranteed by First Amendment to the US Constitution. Freedom of religion encompasses all religions acting within the law in a particular region, whether or not an individual religion accepts that other religions are legitimate or that freedom of religious choice and religious plurality are good things. Many religions of the world teach that theirs is the only way to salvation and to religious truth, and some of them would even argue that it is necessary to suppress the falsehoods taught by other religions. Religious Pluralism as opportunity for change and dialogue Many religious believers believe that religious pluralism should entail not competition but cooperation, and argue that societal and theological change is necessary to overcome religious differences between different religions, and denominational conflicts within the same religion. For most religious traditions, this attitude is essentially based on a non-literal view of one's religious traditions, hence allowing for respect to be engendered between traditions on fundamental principles rather than more marginal issues. It is perhaps summarized as an attitude which rejects focus on immaterial differences, and instead gives respect to those beliefs held in common. Literal truth and Spiritual truth Religious pluralism generally does not claim that all religions are absolutely true. Different religions make certain claims that logically contradict each other, for example, most Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate and part of the Trinity, while both Muslims and Jews hold that it is impossible for any human to be God incarnate, and that no Trinity exists. Christians believe that Jesus was crucified, while Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified, therefore, claiming that both Christianity and Islam are absolutely true gives rise to a logical contradiction. In contrast, most religious pluralists hold that no religion can claim to teach the only or absolute truth, arguing that religion is not literally the word of God, but rather is mankind's attempt to describe the word of God. Given man's finite and fallible nature, no religious text can absolutely describe God and God's will in absolute precision. On this view, no religion is completely true and there is an infinite Reality, or God, that is beyond the ability of any single religion to capture with total accuracy. Instead, all religions make an attempt at capturing this Reality, but this always occurs within a cultural and historical context that affects the viewpoints of the faith's holders. Religious pluralists note that because nearly all religious texts are a combination of historical documents, journalist accounts, essays, and morality plays, distinctions must be made between the literal claims within religious texts, and those claims contained within spiritual metaphors. The differences between spiritual metaphors are seen as common. A recent theological innovation, held by some religious liberals, is a maximal form of religious pluralism. This viewpoint holds that all religions are equally valid and equally true. This form has become held by some who accept some forms of post-modern philosophy, especially deconstructionism. Critics of this viewpoint hold that this claim is self-contradictory. In the last century, liberal forms of Judaism and Christianity have modified some of their religious positions. Religious liberals in these faiths no longer claim that their religion is complete and of absolute accuracy; rather the Jews teach that their faith is only the most complete and accurate revelation of God to humanity that we have, and the Christians teach the same thing in reverse. This allows a religious believer to admit that other faiths have common ground with their own faith, and that these other faiths may even appreciate some other aspect of God that they might not. Adherents of this position argue that just as scientists must have intellectual humility in order for them to find the truth about the laws of nature, religions must have theological humility, and admit that they do not have an exclusive path to God. Religious conservatives in Christianity reject these claims outright, and hold that only their path allows a person to reach God. However, many if not most of these conservatives would acknowledge that some expressions of faith will vary from culture to culture and from time period to time period, and new cultures may indeed shed new light on old dogmas. Many people hold that it is both permissible and imperative for people of all faiths to develop some form of religious pluralism. It is intellectually valid for us to do so because since Biblical times, our understanding of man's place in the natural world has changed radically, due to advances in science; since Biblical times, philosophers have challenged us to rethink our notion of truth, and the very way that we use language itself; advances in travel and communications rule out isolationism; and advances in weaponry and warfare rule out religious intolerance, as this can now lead to mass-murder on scales previously unimaginable. Some religions hold a retrospective form of religious pluralism. A religion can tolerate and sometimes endorse religions which were created before its beginning, but will not accept any new religion which has arisen after itself. For example, Islam accepts some aspects of Christianity, but does not tolerate the Bahai Faith. Most adherents of Bahai accept Christianity, Islam and Judaism, but do not accept new theological innovations that have been created in their community since then. Classical Greek and Roman pagan religious views The ancient Greeks were polytheists; pluralism in that historical era meant accepting the existence of and validity of other faiths, and the gods of other faiths. Greeks and Romans easily accomplished this task by subsuming the entire set of gods from other faiths into their own religion; this was done on rare occasion by adding a new god to their own pantheon; on most occasions they identified another religion's gods with their own. Inter-religious pluralism (between different religions) Christian views Classical Christian views Christianity teaches that on their own, it is impossible for any person to have a relationship with God, and the result of a lack of such a relationship is damnation. To avoid such a fate, Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ was God made flesh in a literal manner, and that by accepting various beliefs about Jesus and God and repenting, a person could then have a meaningful relationship with God and avoid damnation, and earn eternal life in Heaven. All non-Christians, especially Jews, are specifically pointed to as destined for damnation; they complain that such teachings may be considered hateful or anti-Semitic. Christians hold that the consequence of self-separation from the triune God, who they view as the ultimate source of all life, is eternal death. Some view Christianity as a form of egalitarianism, because it teaches that all humanity potentially has equal access to salvation: a person simply has to renounce their faith and sincerely adopt Christianity. Christians have traditionally argued that religious pluralism is an invalid or self-contradictory concept. Maximal forms of religious pluralism claim that all religions are equally true, or that one religion can be true for some and another for others. This Christians hold to be logically impossible. (Most Jews and Muslims similarly reject this maximal form of pluralism.) Christianity insists it is the fullest and most complete revelation of God to Man. If Christianity is true, then other religions cannot be equally true, although they may contain lesser revelations of God that are true. So, the pluralist must either distort Christianity to make it pluralistic, or reject it and acknowledge that one cannot be a complete pluralist. One image of the Church that was often used by the Church fathers was that of a hospital. In this analogy the doctor does not always care for a patient in the way the patient would like, but in the way best suited to bring about healing to the patient. (Entry into the hospital should of course be voluntary.) Doing what pluralists ask would be somewhat akin to accommodating the false 'pillow prophets' of the Old Testament who prophesied to the king what he wanted to hear, predictions of victory, rather than God's words of certain defeat that could only be avoided through thorough repentance. Thus, Christianity must preach salvation through the Church to all outside the Church, in order to help people realize that through conversation to Christianity one will achieve salvation. To these Christians, it appears to be a contradiction for non-Christians to acknowledge the validity of Christian prayers or sacraments, but continue to deny the beliefs which underlie those prayers and sacraments. The central sacrament, the Eucharist, for example, is believed to be the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ; belief in its efficacy is based on the belief that it really and truly is. If a person were to deny that the Eucharist is Christ's body and blood, that would amount to denying that it unites us to God, imparts grace, or administers any other benefit, save possibly through a sort of psychological placebo effect. Modern (post-enlightenment era) Christian views In recent years, some Christian groups have become more open to religious pluralism; this has led to many cases of reconciliation between Christians and people of other faiths. In recent years, there has been much to note in the way of reconciliation between some Christian groups and the Jewish people. Many modern day Christians, including many Catholics and some liberal Protestants, have developed a view of the New Testament as an extended covenant; they believe that Jews are still in a valid relationship with God and that Jews can avoid damnation and earn a heavenly reward. For these Christians, the New Testament extended God's original covenant to cover non-Jews. Many smaller Christian groups in the US and Canada have come into being over the last 40 years, such as 'Christians for Israel'. Their website says that they exist in order to "expand Christian-Jewish dialogue in the broadest sense in order to improve the relationship between Christians and Jews, but also between Church and Synagogue, emphasizing Christian repentance, the purging of anti-Jewish attitudes and the false 'Replacement' theology rampant throughout Christian teachings". A number of large Christian groups, including the Catholic Church and several large Protestant churches, have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize Jews. Most Christians, including most conservative Protestants, reject the idea of the New Testament as an extended covenant, and retain the classical Christian view as described above. The Eastern Orthodox View As is often when viewed from a Western perspective, the Eastern Orthodox teaching appears confusing and paradoxical. On the one hand, the Orthodox Church teaches that Eastern Orthodoxy is the only path to choose for salvation. On the other hand, the Church also teaches that no human being, by statement nor by omission of a statement, may place a limit upon the Will and choice of God, who may save whomsoever it pleases Him to save. Orthodox tries to explain how the paradox is resolved by metaphorically comparing the Church to Noah's Ark. It is not, in theory, utterly impossible for someone to "survive the flood" of sin by clinging to whatever driftwood is around or by trying to cobble together a raft from bits and pieces of whatever floats, but the Ark is a far safer choice to make. Likewise, it is not inconceivable that the heterodox and even non-Christians might be saved simply through God's own choice, made for His inscrutable reasons, but it is far safer for any individual person to turn to the Orthodox Church, thus, it behooves Orthodox Christians to exhort others to take this safer path. Likewise, the Orthodox remembers that Christ mentions one and only one thing that unfailingly leads to perdition-blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. No other path is explicitly and universally excluded by Christ's words. Ultimately, however, the question of salvation of unbelievers is considered purely secondary to what the Church expects of ordinary Orthodox Christians. As St. Theophan the Recluse put the matter: "You ask, will the heterodox be saved... Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins... I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox and possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy, and enter a different faith, you will lose your soul forever." Muslim Views Islam, like most other monotheistic faiths, views itself as the only true path or way. For someone who is living after Prophet Muhammad, the only way to go to Paradise, and avoid Hell, is to follow the message of Islam. Other monotheistic faiths before Islam are also considered valid. For someone to worship other Gods (contradicting monotheism), or denying prophet hood of Muhammad is a sure way to Hell. However, this view does not at all translate to religious intolerance. Far from it, Islam has guaranteed freedom of belief and freedom of worship from the time of Muhammad himself. Non-Muslim minorities living under Muslim rule were guaranteed certain freedoms and protections, under the Dhimmi system. Although that system was initially for people of the book (i.e., Jews and Christians), it was extended to include Mandeans, Zoroastrians and Hindus. Despite the common allegation that Islam spread by the sword, in reality, forced conversions of adherents of other religions is not sanctioned by Islam, and is not common throughout Islamic history. It is true that Muslim rule spread through conquest, but that is the military and political aspect only, and not the religious one. In other words, war was waged to put lands under Muslim rule, but the subjects were free to continue practice whatever religion they chose. However, they were subject to taxation and political and economic impediments based on their non-Muslim status. At one time, this was not a unique activity of Muslim countries, as similar legal restrictions and penalties were imposed on minority Christian groups within European Christian countries. Religious persecution is also not sanctioned by Islam, although a few occurrences are known in history, but are mostly due to cruel rulers, or general economic hardships in the societies they are in. To that effect, most pre-Islamic religious minorities continue to exist in their native countries, a fact which is in glaring contrast to the extinction of Muslim minorities in Europe at the time of the Renaissance. Over the centuries, several known religious debates, and polemical works did exist in various Muslim countries between various Muslim sects, as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims. Many of these works survive today, and make for some very interesting reading in the apologetics genre. Only when such debates spilled over to the unlearned masses, and thus causing scandals, and civil strife did rulers intervene to restore order and pacify the public outcry on the perceived attack on their beliefs. As for sects within Islam, history shows a variable pattern. Various sects became intolerant when gaining favour with the rulers, and often work to oppress or eliminate rival sects (e.g. Mu'tazili persecution of Salafis, Safavid imposing Shia on the population of Iran, etc.). Sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni inhabitants of Baghdad is well known through history. In contrast, several sects coexist in other parts of the Muslim world with little or no friction. Classical Jewish views Classical views on other religions in general The Jewish belief that only their religion was wholly true did not preclude a belief that God has a relationship with other peoples. Instead, Judaism held that God had entered into a covenant with all mankind, and that any person had the ability to have a relationship with God, even if they were not a Jew. The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) speaks of prophets outside the community of Israel. Based on the Hebrew Bible's statements that gentiles can be prophets, some rabbis theorized that "God permitted to every people something he forbade to others...God sends a prophet to every people according to their own language." This is the view of Nethanel ibn Fayyumi, a Yemenite Jewish theologian (12th century). (Levine, 1907/1966) Jews believe that God chose the Jewish people to be in a unique covenant with God; the description of this covenant is the Torah itself. The Jews were chosen for a specific mission; to be a light unto the nations, and to have a covenant with God as described in the Torah. Rabbinic literature contains many statements illustrating the belief that God is God of all peoples, not just of the Jews. Moses calls God "God of the spirits of all flesh" (Numbers 27:16). The Mishnah states that "Humanity was produced from one man, Adam, to show God's greatness. When a man mints a coin in a press, each coin is identical. But when the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, creates people in the form of Adam not one is similar to any other." (Mishnah, Sanhedrin, 4:5) The Talmud contains a list of seven commandments that Jews believe God required of the children of Noah, i.e. all humanity. These are: (1) to establish laws, (2) to refrain from idolatry, (3) to refrain from blasphemy, (4) to refrain from sexual immorality, (5) to refrain from bloodshed and murder), (6) to refrain from theft, and (7) to refrain from the tearing of a limb from a living animal. Jewish law holds that gentiles need follow only these laws to be considered moral. There is no demand for others to convert to Judaism; these laws implicitly allow non-Jews to have their own religions. Many rabbis hold that the second law implicitly is a positive commandment to believe in God; however some historians argue that this is not the original meaning of the verse. The rabbis spent more time defining and prohibiting idolatry than they did describing God and demanding belief in a specific theology. One sage in the Talmud states "Whoever denies idolatry is called a Yehudi (Jew)." (Babylonian Talmud, Megilla, 13a). In the second century a sage in the Tosefta declared "the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come." (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13) Rabbi Norman Solomon holds that three concepts underlie the Hebrew Bible: · Universality - The book of Genesis stresses the unity of humanity. King Solomon's dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem stresses that it is to be a religious center for all mankind. The Pslams (especially Pslam 117) extol all the nations of the world to join in the worship of God, without demanding that others convert to Judaism. · Non-exclusiveness - Non-Israelite Biblical characters such as Melchizedek, Jethro and Na'aman recognize the God of the Bible, without being members of the Israelite faith or community. · Demarcation - While God cares for all humanity, that does not mean that God considers all forms of worship acceptable. The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) repeatedly states that the practice of idolatry is abhorrent to God, whether practiced by Jew or gentile. Views on Jewish-Christian dialogue In practice, the predominant position of Orthodoxy on this issue is based on the position of RabbiJoseph Soloveitchik in an essay entitled Confrontation. He held that Judaism and Christianity are "two faith communities (which are) intrinsically antithetic". In his view "the language of faith of a particular community is totally incomprehensible to the man of a different faith community. Hence the confrontation should occur not at a theological, but at a mundane human level... the great encounter between man and God is a holy, personal and private affair, incomprehensible to the outsider..." As such, he ruled that theological dialogue between Judaism and Christianity was not possible. However, Soloveitchik advocated closer ties between the Jewish and Christian communities. He held that communication between Jews and Christians was not merely permissible, but "desirable and even essential" on non-theological issues such as war and peace, the war on poverty, the struggle for people to gain freedom, issues of morality and civil rights, and to work together against the perceived threat of secularism. As a result of his ruling, Orthodox Jewish groups did not operate in interfaith discussions between the Catholic Church and Judaism about Vatican II, a strictly theological endeavour. However, the Rabbinical Council of America, with Soloveitchik's approval, then engaged in a number of interfaith dialogues with both Catholic and Protestant Christian groups. Soloveitchik understood his ruling as advising against purely theological interfaith dialogue, but as allowing for theological dialogue to exist if it was part of a greater context. Bernard Rosensweig (former President of the RCA) writes "The RCA remained loyal to the guidelines which the Rav had set down [concerning interfaith dialogue] and distinguished between theological discussions and ethical-secular concerns, which have universal validity. Every program involving either Catholic or Protestant churches in which we participated was carefully scrutinized.... Every topic which had possible theological nuances or implications was vetoed, and only when the Ray pronounced it to be satisfactory did we proceed to the dialogue." An RCA committee was once reviewing possible topics for an inter-faith dialogue. One of the suggested topics was "Man in the Image of God." Several members of the committee felt that the topic had too theological a ring, and wished to veto it. When the Rav [Soloveitch] was consulted he approved the topic and quipped, "What should the topic have been? Man as a Naturalistic Creature?!" (Lawrence Kaplan, Revisionism and the Rav: The Struggle for the Soul of Modern Orthodoxy Judaism, Summer, 1999) The basis for Soloveitchik's ruling was not strictly legal, but sociological and historical. He described the traditional Jewish-Chistian relationship as one of "the few and weak vis-à-vis the many and the strong", one in which the Christian community historically denied the right of the Jewish community to believe and live in their own way. His response was written in the light of past Jewish-Christian religious disputations, which traditionally had been forced upon the Jewish community. Those had as their express goal the conversion of Jews to Christianity. As recently as the 1960s many traditional Jews still looked upon all interfaith dialogue with suspicion, fearing that conversion may be an ulterior motive. This was a reasonable belief, given that many Catholics and most Protestants at the time in fact held this position. Reflecting this stance, Rabbi Soloveitchik asked the Christian community to respect "the right of the community of the few to live, create and worship in its own way, in freedom and with dignity." Many traditional rabbis agree; they hold that while cooperation with the Christian community is of importance, theological dialogue is unnecessary, or even misguided. Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits writes that "Judaism is Judaism because it rejects Christianity, and Christianity is Christianity because it rejects Judaism." (Disputation and Dialogue: Readings in the Jewish Christian Encounter, Ed. F.E. Talmage, Ktav, 1975, p. 291.) In later years, Solovetichik's qualified permission was interpreted in a progressivley more restrictive fashion. (Tradition:A Journal of Orthodox Thought, Vol. 6, 1964) Today, many Orthodox rabbis use Soloveitchik's letter to justify having no discussion or joint efforts with Christians at all. In contrast, some Modern Orthodox rabbis such as Eugene Korn and David Hartman hold that in some cases, the primary issue in Confrontaton no longer is valid; some Christian groups no longer attempt to use interfaith dialogue to convert Jews to Christianity. They believe that the relationship between Judaism and Christianity has reached a point where Jews can trust Christian groups to respect them as equals. Further, in most nations it is not possible for Jews to be forced or pressured to convert, and many major Christian groups no longer teach that the Jews are damned to hell. In non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism, most rabbis hold that Jews have nothing to fear from engaging in theological dialogue, and in fact may have much to gain. Some hold that in practice Soloveitchik's distinctions are not viable, for any group that has sustained discussion and participation on moral issues will implicitly involve theological discourse. Thus, since informal implicit theological dialogue will occur, one might as well admit it and publicly work on formal theological dialogue. Conservative Rabbi Robert Gordis wrote an essay on "Ground Rules for a Christian Jewish Dialogue"; in all Jewish denominations, one form or another of these rules eventually became more or less accepted by parties engaging in Jewish-Christian theological dialogue. Robert Gordis held that "a rational dialogue conducted on the basis of knowledge and mutual respect between the two components of the religio-ethical tradition of the Western world can prove a blessing to our age." His proposed groundrules for fair discussion are these: (1) People should not label Jews as worshipping an inferior "the Old Testament God of Justice" while saying that Christians worship a superior "God of Love of the New Testament." Gordis brings forth quotes from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) which shows that this view is a misleading caricature of both religions that was created by selective quotation. (2) He holds that Christians should stop "the widespread practice of contrasting the primitivism, tribalism and formalism of the Old Testament with the spirituality, universalism, and freedom of the New, to the manifest disadvantage of the former." Gordis again brings forth quotes from the Tanakh which shows that this view is a misleading caricature of both religions that was created by selective quotation. (3) "Another practice which should be surrendered is that of referring to Old Testament verses quoted in the New as original New Testament passages. Many years ago, Bertrand Russell, whose religious orthodoxy is something less than total, described the Golden Rule 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself' as New Testament teaching. When the Old Testament source (Leviticus 19:18) was called to his attention, he blandly refused to recognize his error." (4) Christians need to understand that while Judaism is based in the Hebrew Bible, it is not identical to the religion described in it. Rather, Judaism is based on the Bible as understood through the classical works of rabbinic literature, such as the Mishnah and Talmud. Gordis writes "To describe Judaism within the framework of the Old Testament is as misleading as constructing a picture of American life in terms of the Constitution, which is, to be sure, the basic law of the land but far from coextensive with our present legal and social system." (5) Jews must "rise above the heavy burden of historical memories which have made it difficult for them to achieve any real understanding, let alone an appreciation, of Christianity. It is not easy to wipe out the memories of centuries of persecution and massacre, all too often dedicated to the advancement of the cause of the Prince of Peace.....[It is] no easy task for Jews to divest themselves of the heavy burden of group memories from the past, which are unfortunately reinforced all too often by personal experiences in the present. Nevertheless, the effort must be made, if men are to emerge from the dark heritage of religious hatred which has embittered their mutual relationships for twenty centuries. There is need for Jews to surrender the stereotype of Christianity as being monolithic and unchanging and to recognize the ramifications of viewpoint and emphasis that constitute the multicolored spectrum of contemporary Christianity." Gordis calls on Jews to "see in Christian doctrine an effort to apprehend the nature of the divine that is worthy of respect and understanding" and that "the dogmas of the Christian church have expressed this vision of God in terms that have proved meaningful to Christian believers through the centuries." Gordis calls on Jews to understand with tolerance and respect the historical and religious context which led Christians to develop the concepts of the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Resurrection, even if Jews themselves do not accept these ideas as correct. Similarly, Gordis calls on Christians to understand with tolerance and respect that Jews do not accept these beliefs, since they are in contradiction to the Jewish understanding of the unity of God. (Source: "The Root and the Branch", Chapter 4, Robert Gordis, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962) Recently, over 120 rabbis have signed the Dabru Emet ("Speak the Truth"), a document concerning the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. While affirming that there are substantial theological differences between these two religions, the purpose of Dabru Emet is to point out common ground. It is not an official document of any of the Jewish denominations per se, but it is representative of what many Jews feel. Dabru Emet sparked a controversy in segments of the Jewish community. Many Jews disagree with parts of it for a variety of reasons. Views on Jewish-Muslim dialogue Many Jewish groups and individuals have created projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs, most of which have as one of their goals overcoming religious prejudice. The viewpoint of Conservative Judaism is summarized in Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism. This official statement holds that "As Conservative Jews, we acknowledge without apology the many debts which Jewish religion and civilization owe to the nations of the world. We eschew triumphalism with respect to other ways of serving God. Maimonides believed that other monotheistic faiths, Christianity and Islam, serve to spread knowledge of, and devotion to, the God and the Torah of Israel throughout the world. Many modern thinkers, both Jewish and gentile, have noted that God may well have seen fit to enter covenants with many nations. Either outlook, when relating to others, is perfectly compatible with a commitment to one's own faith and pattern of religious life. If we criticize triumphalism in our own community, then real dialogue with other faith groups requires that we criticize triumphalism and other failings in those quarters as well. In the second half of the twentieth century, no relationship between Jews and Christians can be dignified or honest without facing up frankly to the centuries of prejudice, theological anathema, and persecution that have been thrust upon Jewish communities, culminating in the horrors of the Shoah (Holocaust). No relationship can be nurtured between Jews and Muslims unless it acknowledges explicity and seeks to combat the terrible social and political effects of Muslim hostility, as well as the disturbing but growing reaction of Jewish anti-Arabism in the Land of Israel. But all of these relationships, properly pursued, can bring great blessing to the Jewish community and to the world. As the late Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, "no religion is an island." (Help has been taken from various international books and websites for writing this article. For further information & suggestions, please contact Saba Wallace, +92-333-4212816. Email:

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